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July 31, 2010


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Purely out of curiosity, since my Chinese is only as good as my Japanese lets it be, 捕捉 -> "flips on"?

By the way, I don't know if you know this poem, but it came to mind.

The Dream - Mikhail Lermontov

In the midday heat of a valley in Dagestan
I lay still, my chest full of lead.
Smoke still rose from the deep wound
And my blood trickled out in drops.

I lay alone on the sand in that valley.
The cliff-ledges crowded round,
And the sun burnt their yellow peaks
And burnt me - but I slept the sleep of death.

And I dreamt of an evening feast
In my native land, lit by bright fires.
Young women, crowned with flowers,
Spoke merrily of me.

But one sat there lost in thought,
Not entering into the cheerful talk,
And her young soul was immersed -
God knows how - in a melancholy dream.

And she dreamt of a valley in Dagestan.
A familiar corpse lay in that valley,
A blackening wound smoking in its chest,
And the blood flowing in a stream that grew cold.

Сон - Михаил Лермонтов

В полдневный жар в долине Дагестана
С свинцом в груди лежал недвижим я;
Глубокая еще дымилась рана;
По капле кровь точилася моя.

Лежал один я на песке долины;
Уступы скал теснилися кругом,
И солнце жгло их желтые вершины
И жгло меня - но спал я мертвым сном.

И снился мне сияющий огнями
Вечерний пир, в родимой стороне.
Меж юных жен, увенчанных цветами,
Шел разговор веселый обо мне.

Но в разговор веселый не вступая,
Сидела там задумчиво одна,
И в грустный сон душа ее младая
Бог знает чем была погружена;

И снилась ей долина Дагестана;
Знакомый труп лежал в долине той;
В его груди дымясь чернела рана,
И кровь лилась хладеющей струей.

Hi Marc,

You know how I love it when you find your way here....
I know, that translation is problematic.

Jan had a more direct translation:

Once again it opens up a whole new web
With super-human mystical remote sensing
It seizes bright spots in the black hole.

I also had this one:
Again, a net is unfolded,
And with super-human powers, and remote control sensors
Dream lights up a black hole

But, you know what? In the end, I think "flips the switch on the spotlights" really conjures up a similar feeling... no?

I loved the Lermontoc poem, by the way-- arigato.

Another dumb question: who's doing what here?

捕捉 (at least in Japanese) is a technical term for "acquisition" (e.g., a target, a signal, etc.). Now, I'm just playing a la Derrida here since I'm attempting to translate out of a language I don't really know but can pretty much read (aka post-structuralist poetic license), but I'll also put this out there: I think the poet is playing on a science/magic dichotomy that Arthur C. Clarke once famously pointed out ("all new technology seems like magic at first"), in his choice of words. Network vs. a net, remote sensing (technology) vs. remote viewing (paranormal ability), acquisition vs. getting.

I unfurl a new net
and with my mysterious superhuman
remote viewing abilities
acquire the bright spots
in a black hole.

To pretend, I actually do the thing: I have therefore only pretended to pretend --Derrida

I am in the same boat as you...and I approached this 100% via Japanese sensibilities...

It is, I assume, a comtemporray poem and so I also was aiming for a magic in technology interpretation (but something more like, a remote control switches on a light switch)... You know, dreams and new technologies "open up" or "illuminate" new worlds (lichtung).

So, I read the poem in a similar way.

As far as 捕捉, another friend (on facebook), translated the last line like this below... you probably like that much better.

The thing with his translation, though, is it is too daoist or classic.. it misses that magical in technology feeling?

Marc, this could be pure crap, but I think my poem "sounds" better.. it rings truer (to my ears) but a Chinese speaker emailed me last night and said he liked my version better in the 1st comment above.

What are you reading now? I am still reading Dante's Comedia. But Steven F. and I are going to start Cixous' novel Love Itself (in the letterbox)-- if you want to read with us, that would be a lot of fun!

Once again the net unfolds
With divine and mystical powers of remote perception
Catching the dappled light inside the dark

Nah, I like my version better .

I'm reading Constitutional Law in a Nutshell and The Nine right now. I'm not really in the mood for Cixous right now. Gomen ne!

You know what? I like your version better too... I've been reading it aloud and I like it a lot. The Nines? I am watching the Rumpole of the Bailey series on DVD-- you might love it too, my dear Zaretsky!
Look at this on justice versus law... what acting, like theater.


The Nine. It's about the Supreme Court.

I had a professor in college named Zaretsky. Robert Zaretsky, I think. In Houston. Man that was a long time ago.

In Mandarin, "buzhuo" is very much associated with catching animals, so with the word for net, the fishing metaphor is very much to the fore.
The "kaifa" in line 1 is tough as well, combining the senses of R&D and casting a net.
As to the agency, I wouldn't quite go with your and Jan's "it" - it's a bit depersonalized in English. The actor may not be stated in Chinese, but is immanent in the sentence. It feels as though there is an agent that is implicit here. "I" is definitely a possible interpretation. Using the infinitive form or imperative would both be OK, I think.


I once again roll out a net
And with superhuman and inscrutable sensors
Haul in the sparks in a black hole

Is there a word for the sparkling of plankton in the surf at night? It might be stretching the metaphor too far, but "sparks" doesn't feel quite right here, and I don't think an extension of the ocean theme would be too wrong.

Thanks for this post. I never seem to read poetry any more (for myself - started reading some to my boy, but it's not quite the same).

Hey Phil, long time no talk! How are you? It's wonderful to hear from you :)

I would normally completely agree about "I." This is a classic problem in subjectless Japanese and one of the perennial mistakes made when translating Jpse to Eng is to turn an active Jpse sentence (without a stated subject) into a passive. Even though it's about Jpse, I really really recommend
this book by Jay Rubin to you if you can somehow get a copy. You would like it a lot and gain so many insights into why Japanese is "mind bending". You know, the US state department ranks Japanese
as the hardest language for english-learners to learn and while I personally think cantonese is far more challenging, Rubin's book does really illuminate so many of the peculiarities of Japanese.

Anyway, though. Jan and I did talk very very briefly on facebook about making "dream" the agent. I agree... but the thing is, it's a poem and a highly abbreviated one at that so ideally we would ask the poet! You may be very right--Marc agrees with you.

As a poem I think I either like my top attempt best or Marc's attempt below... this is totally subjective, of course! As a translation, my only big concern was the last line. Marc did not like my loose translation of 捕捉 and he would only have a point, to my mind, depending on 黑洞. The Japanese translation software spit out "black hole" for this, as in outer space..and
if I was serious, I would definitely track this down. Because is 黑洞 "blackhole" or is it just "a black hole" (like cave or a cavern or deep ocean water" I suspect it is the latter? And then I would have to go back and fix my "switch on the lights"... though I am very partial to that...

Hey Phil, two things...
1) I disagreed with every last word you said about Nussbaum... check back later as I really wanted to bring something up. I was talking about the article with a friend at 精華大学 (who has extensive first hand experience in both systems) and he agreed that it really was rather arrogant and said it reminded him of a scholar he knows in North America who said to him once, "I know nothing good is happening in China because I would
have heard of it if it was" That is, there is an epistemological question regarding... well, what is she basing any of her opinions on having never gone through the system and neve having lived in East Asia, her opinions are most probably based on faulty or at least a shaky grasp of the phenomenon...
anyway, more later.
2) Am about to post one more poetry translation attempt later...here is the
poem if you want to give it a shot!

竹枝詞 劉寓錫
Bamboo Stalk Lyrics by Liu Yuxi

You could always take a page out of Philip Levine's book and use "you."

You unfurl a new net
and with your mysterious superhuman remote viewing abilities

capture the bright spots
in a black hole.

Trying to maintain the lexical ambiguity is hard.


I love the way your translation sounds just above--love it! Another translator friend, though, emails to say this:

I ran into the I-he/she-you-we problem with translating T'ang poetry and in the end mostly stuck with the first person pronoun simply because the poems are experiential and that first person pronoun becomes the reader/speaker who reads deeply into the poem... to experience the poem, not to merely gaze at as an object of language.

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